COULD the rural Kelantan constituency of Manik Urai mark the return of a rejuvenated Umno and Barisan Nasional?

Opportunity seems to be knocking on BN's door at a time when Umno and fellow coalition members are fighting hard to regain the trust and support of the silent majority -- that formidable section of the population who must be taken seriously and who turned against the BN for a host of reasons in the 2008 general election.

The extremely low voter turnout in the just concluded Penanti by-election is yet another indication of Parti Keadilan Rakyat's waning support among Malaysians who are tired of their brand of politics.

Pas, on the other hand, is facing a serious crisis of identity and there is undoubtedly mounting pressure on the Islamist party. Stalled at a political crossroads between the Erdogans and the ulama, internal bickering is at its height while grassroots members and supporters are craving for a better life.

So is the tide turning against the unstable Pakatan Rakyat, just 14 months after the general election?
"I think we have an excellent opportunity to win over the people and support for Umno and BN is definitely growing again," says Umno information chief Ahmad Maslan.

Some may assume that the Manik Urai state constituency in Kelantan is a Pas strong-hold. While such assumptions could have held water a year ago, the current scenario is fast changing.

The days of a lame BN are gone. With Datuk Seri Najib Razak at the helm as prime minister and Umno president, the coalition could actually stage a dramatic comeback with a vengeance.

The unprecedented decision to stay away from the "manufactured" Penanti by-election is a clear indication of a more serious BN and Umno.

Kelantan Umno, too, is at its best footing now to ride the reversing political tide. With a respected leader in Datuk Mustapa Mohamad, Umno could actually mark its return in Manik Urai.

Pas held the seat for five terms not because they built schools, highways or new houses but simply due to the fact that their assemblyman was a people's man.

Friends and foes testify that Ismail Yaakob was a down-to- earth politician who lived in Kampung Manik Urai Lama and looked after the affairs of the undemanding village folk.

The BN did win the seat twice, once in 1978 and in 2004 and, in both elections, it was against different candidates.

While the absence of the late Ismail is definitely a blessing in disguise for BN, the question of unity among past and present state Umno leaders is a cause for concern.

"Umno has a golden chance in Manik Urai if we are united. If experienced leaders like Ku Li (Tengku Razaleigh Ham-zah), Tan Sri Annuar Musa and others join hands with Mustapa, Manik Urai could mark the turning of the tide for Umno.

"We must put everything else aside and stand united as one Umno," Maslan said.

"MU stands for Manik Urai here and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is a longtime MU (Manchester United football team) fan," Maslan said in jest.

The Election Commission has set July 6 for nomination and July 14 for polling for the Manik Urai state constituency.

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